” ‘Mark Twain’ was the nom de plume of one Captain Isaiah Sellers, [an Iredell County native] who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune: he died in 1863 and as he could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor’s remains. That is the history of the nom de plume I bear.”
— From a letter by Samuel L. Clemens to a California newspaper in 1877, supposedly revealing the origin of his pen name
In reality, according to this article in the Los Angeles Review of Books (Sept. 26), the Sellers claim was just another of Clemens’ prankish deceptions: “No record of the name ‘Mark Twain’ exists in Times Picayune archives, nor those of any newspaper in the region. Isaiah Sellers always signed his river reports ‘I. Sellers.’ And the captain died one year after Clemens adopted that pen name, not before.”
“Is Andy Griffith our Robert Burns? One should argue Whitman or Poe, or even Frost, makes for a richer comparison. Certainly self-invented Whitman, who loved Burns, is the triumphant American version — yet the Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, receives scant visitors. The same is true for Poe’s tidy home in Baltimore, now temporarily closed for lack of community support; and poor Frost’s New Hampshire farmhouse was vandalized and set aflame by a horde of drunken teenagers, who literally pissed on his stuff. Maybe these aren’t fair comparisons. But in the second half of the 20th century, television is popular culture.
“Perhaps whatever impulse propelled Keats in the 19th century — and Clark Gable, Irving Berlin, Joe Louis, and the Prince of Wales over a century later — to make a pilgrimage to the simple birthplace of poet Robert Burns, propels people to commune with the spirit of Andy Griffith in Mount Airy.
“The city earned over $100 million last year because people want to witness the place where this man came into being, and as any casual observer can discern from fans talking on the candlestick courthouse phone, they desire to exist inside his fiction.”
— From “Our Town: Andy Griffith and the Humor of Mourning” by Evan Smith Rakoff” in the Los Angeles Review of Books (April 20, 2013)